COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Herb & Dorothy”

Film Still from “Herb & Dorothy”

With a tag line “You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to collect art,” Megumi Sasaki’s film makes an impact immediately. If not Rockefellers, who were Herb and Dorothy Vogel? Just a postal clerk and a librarian, who, while living and working in New York in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, managed to amass an impressive collection of 4782 works of the most prominent American artists of the time. The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC accepted a donation of 1000 works from the Vogels’ collection, while the rest of their holdings will be donated to museums in 50 states, in numbers of 50 at a time.  American art collected by Americans for the benefit of Americans.

 

Herb & Dorothy (If you click on this link, the film trailer will begin)

The moral of Herb & Dorothy’s story is not that one can become an avid collector of art even on the meager salary of a postal clerk or a librarian. This, by itself, is no small feat but what Sasaki’s film clearly communicates is the Vogels’ method in pursuing their passion as well as two different approaches to art: Dorothy Vogel, a librarian with a master’s degree and a more intellectual approach to art, keeps her distance to reflect and analyze a piece. On the contrary, her husband Herb, who never advanced beyond high school, has a discerning eye and an impulsive reaction to the pieces he likes. His relationship to art resembles the power of animals, as artist Richard Tuttle observes at one point during an interview.

The film is a chronicle of the world of contemporary art and a candid portrait of two passionate collectors who cannot be stopped by lack of money or space. Their method of collecting American art combines a determination and sophistication that allows them to operate in the art world as a unique force. The Vogels collected works by the most prominent contemporary American artists early on, when the latter were still unknown and could not pay their rent.

Two aspects of the film stayed with me: the Vogels’ truly American story and that collecting is living one’s passion.

©Thomaï Serdari